A live-wire performance from substitute Obafemi Martins helped FC Internazionale Milano to an impressive 2-1 victory against Villarreal CF in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Martins came on just after the half-hour but it was after the restart that he found his feet, scoring what proved to be the decisive goal on 54 minutes. The win looked unlikely early on as Diego Forlán gave Villarreal a shock lead, although the home side responded with aplomb. Adriano equalised six minutes later but the night was to belong to fellow forward Martins.
Forlán had given the visitors a dream start when he tapped in calmly within 60 seconds of the kick-off after Francesco Toldo could only parry José María Romero's low strike. It was Juan Román Riquelme's through-ball that had created the initial opening and Inter's Alvaro Recoba, preferred ahead of Martins, soon did similar at the other end to send Adriano clear. The Brazilian's chip left Sebastián Viera stranded but Javi Venta was on hand with a goalline clearance.
Venta was a late inclusion in the starting XI as he and Juan Manuel Peña returned to provide a boost to coach Manuel Pellegrini, who was without Alessio Tacchinardi, Josico and Rodolfo Arruabarrena through suspension. But while Venta quickly made a contribution, Peña was found wanting on seven minutes when he failed to deal with Dejan Stanković's scuffed right-wing cross. The ball fell kindly for Adriano who swivelled and rifled in from close range – his 12th goal in only 15 UEFA Champions League matches.
It capped a frenzied beginning to the game in front of an expectant crowd, who had also seen Juan Sebastián Verón test Viera following another defence-splitting pass from Recoba. The Uruguayan forward was a pervasive presence for the Nerazzurri but both back lines gradually found their shape, with Marcos Senna and Esteban Cambiasso key figures in a crowded midfield. Still, the lively Forlán twice forced Toldo into diving stops, while Recoba's bobbling effort earned a corner midway through the half.
The Inter attacker hobbled off soon afterwards to be replaced by Martins, and the tireless running of the pacy Nigerian gave Inter options and created space in midfield. Verón was the obvious beneficiary, but captain Javier Zanetti also grew more adventurous, making a series of surges into the heart of the Villarreal defence as the visitors were placed on the back foot.
Martins emerged for the second half five minutes before his team-mates, and almost gained immediate reward for his conscientiousness when he just failed to reach a cross from César, deployed in place of the injured Luís Figo. Martins was set to lead the field in a mass public jog on Thursday as part of a fitness drive in Milan, but may yet find the exertion too much after an exhausting start to the second period that culminated in Inter taking a deserved advantage.
Stanković's rasping centre found Martins free at the back post and the 21-year-old flicked the ball into the empty net. That left Villarreal in new territory, as the Spanish team had never before been behind in their maiden UEFA Champions League campaign. Venta needed to be at his best to block Martins soon after, before Riquelme almost fashioned an equaliser, his long-range free-kick striking the crossbar.
It proved a false dawn as Inter continued to press, though they were unable to add to their lead despite chances for Adriano and Martins. They could come to regret that profligacy in the return in Spain, where they have lost ten of 14 games in UEFA competition, although they beat Villarreal's local rivals Valencia CF 5-1 in their last visit a year ago.